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Identifying Fire Hazards in the Workplace

Management of Fire Hazards

A fire hazard assessment is an organised and methodical look at your premises, the activities carried on there and the likelihood that a fire could start and cause harm to those in and around the premises.

The aims of the fire hazard assessment are:

  • To identify the fire hazards.
  • To reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as reasonably practicable.
  • To decide what physical fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure the safety of people in your premises if a fire does start.

A fire hazard assessment will help you determine the chances of a fire starting and the dangers from fire that your premises present for the people who use them and any person in the immediate vicinity.

Identifying Fire Hazards

For a fire to start, three things are needed:

  • a source of ignition
  • fuel, and
  • oxygen.

If any one of these is missing, a fire cannot start.

Taking measures to avoid the three coming together will therefore reduce the chances of a fire occurring. The remainder of this step will advise on how to identify potential ignition sources, the materials that might fuel a fire and the oxygen supplies that will help it burn.

Identifying Sources of Ignition

You can identify the potential ignition sources in your premises by looking for possible sources of heat which could get hot enough to ignite material found in your premises. These sources could include:

  • smokers’ material, e.g. cigarettes, matches and lighters;
  • naked flames, e.g. candles or gas or liquid-fuelled open-flame equipment
  • electrical, gas or oil-fired heaters (fixed or portable)
  • hot processes, e.g. welding by contractors or shrink wrapping
  • cooking equipment
  • faulty or misused electrical equipment
  • lighting equipment, e.g. halogen lamps or display lighting too close to stored products
  • hot surfaces and obstruction of equipment ventilation, e.g. office equipment; and
  • arson.

Indications of ‘near-misses’, such as scorch marks on furniture or fittings, discoloured or charred electrical plugs and sockets, cigarette burns etc., can help you identify hazards which you may not otherwise notice.

Identifying Sources of Fuel

Anything that burns is fuel for a fire. You need to look for the things that will burn reasonably easily and are in enough quantity to provide fuel for a fire or cause it to spread to another fuel source.

Some of the most common ‘fuels’ found in offices and shops are:

  • flammable-liquid-based products, such as paints, varnishes, thinners and adhesives
  • flammable liquids and solvents, such as white spirit, methylated spirit, cooking oils and disposable cigarette lighters
  • flammable chemicals, such as certain cleaning products, photocopier chemicals and dry cleaning that uses hydrocarbon solvents
  • packaging materials, stationery, advertising material and decorations
  • plastics and rubber, such as video tapes, polyurethane foam-filled furniture and polystyrene-based display materials
  • textiles and soft furnishings, such as hanging curtains and clothing displays
  • waste products, particularly finely divided items such as shredded paper and wood shavings, off cuts, and dust; and
  • flammable gases such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

You should also consider the materials used to line walls and ceilings, e.g. polystyrene or carpet tiles, the fixtures and fittings, and how they might contribute to the spread of fire.

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fire hazards in workplace

Identifying Sources of Oxygen

The main source of oxygen for a fire is in the air around us. In an enclosed building this is provided by the ventilation system in use. This generally falls into one of two categories: natural airflow through doors, windows and other openings; or mechanical air conditioning systems and air handling systems. In many buildings there will be a combination of systems, which will be capable of introducing/extracting air to and from the building.

Additional sources of oxygen can sometimes be found in materials used or stored at premises such as:

  • some chemicals (oxidising materials), which can provide a fire with additional oxygen and so help it burn. These chemicals should be identified on their container by the manufacturer or supplier who can advise as to their safe use and storage
  • oxygen supplies from cylinder storage and piped systems, e.g. oxygen used in welding processes; and
  • pyrotechnics (fireworks), which contain oxidising materials and need to be treated with great care.

Identifying People at Risk

As part of your fire risk assessment, you need to identify those at risk if there is a fire. To do this you need to identify where you have people working, either at permanent workstations or at occasional locations around the premises, and to consider who else may be at risk, such as customers, visiting contractors etc., and where these people are likely to be found.

You must consider all the people who use the premises, but you should pay particular attention to people who may be especially at risk such as:

  • employees who work alone and/or in isolated areas, e.g. cleaners, security staff
  • people who are unfamiliar with the premises, e.g. seasonal workers, contractors, visitors, and customers
  • people with disabilities or those who may have some other reason for not being able to leave the premises quickly, e.g. elderly customers or parents with children
  • other persons in the immediate vicinity of the premises; and
  • people with language difficulties.

In evaluating the risk to people with disabilities you may need to discuss their individual needs with them. In larger buildings used extensively by the public you may need to seek professional advice.

Conclusion

Good management of fire safety is essential to ensure that fires are unlikely to occur; that if they do occur they are likely to be controlled or contained quickly, effectively and safely; or that, if a fire does occur and grow, everyone in your premises is able to escape to a place of total safety easily and quickly.

The assessment elements covered in this article are covered as part of our Chief Fire Warden course and more comprehensively in our Fire Safety Advisor (QLD) course and our Facility Fire Safety courses.

If you are struggling to get traction on fire safety in your workplace give us a call on 1300 990 336 or email us at info@intrinsicsafety.com.au to start the conversation on how to protect your greatest assets…your people and your business.

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